THIS IS A GUEST ROCKPILE BY ROBERT WALGREN
Remember 2018? As a Rockies fan, and a human in general, this simultaneously feels like it was yesterday and also a lifetime ago. Led by their young pitching, the Rockies won a thrilling Wild Card game over the Cubs but then fell apart against the Brewers, dropping the third game of the sweep at Coors in front of a near-capacity crowd that was more deterred by the Rockies freezing cold bats than the miserable weather that day. However, things were looking up: the Rockies were a team with a young pitching core backed by a potentially potent offense. Boy how things have changed.
While at-capacity crowds are, at least temporarily, a thing of the past, the Rockies young core of pitching remains. Kyle Freeland, Jon Gray, and Germán Márquez are all now veterans, and while they have perhaps lost the shine of their 2018 seasons, their rebound potential can perhaps provide a little hope for a fanbase looking for something (well, looking for anything really) in 2021.
Freeland’s 2018 was a thing of beauty. Although his secondary stats indicated a regression was imminent, he finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting and started for the Rockies in the Wild Card game – pitching scoreless ball into the seventh. While his 2019 season was forgettable, ending with a 6.73 ERA and just three wins, his 2020 was a step in the right direction. Obviously last year was a small sample size, and hoping that Freeland can get Cy Young votes again is more than optimistic, but if he can defy the peripherals and get even any of that mojo back, the Thomas Jefferson High alum could be the homegrown starter that the Rockies have been looking for all these years.
Of the trio, Jon Gray has had the most trouble consistently figuring it out in a Rockies uniform. Originally projected to go first overall in the 2013 draft, Gray fell to the Rockies at third following a failed drug test. After receiving NL Rookie of the Year votes in 2016, Gray has had an up-and-down career – at times flashing his plus four seamer that made him such a highly touted prospect, but at others getting hit hard, losing control, and coming completely off the rails. He and the pitching coaches have done some tinkering over the years (with sometimes less than stellar results), but he remains the hard-throwing, potential power pitcher that the Jeff Bridich-era Rockies have targeted. Consistency remains the issue. The nuances of training and preparing during a pandemic have surely made things difficult, but this is shaping up to be an important year for Gray, who is slated to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. While it has never seemed that Gray has lacked motivation, this extra push will hopefully be what he needs to prove himself as an ace – or at least a reliable starter.
When the Rockies sent Corey Dickerson to the Rays in 2016, they got back Jake McGee and Germán Márquez – a live arm who appeared on the backend of some prospects lists, but had never pitched above High-A. In 2017 he had made the jump all the way to the bigs, earning NL Rookie of the Year votes, and followed it up with a 14 win, 230 strikeout campaign in 2018. He took a slight step back in 2019, but remained consistent throughout the year and into the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. We all know how brilliant he can be – immaculate innings show up on the box score just like any other three outs, but you have to be downright filthy to get one. That high end talent has Márquez lined up to continue into 2021 as the Rockies ace.
With Márquez rumored to be the upcoming Opening Day starter, it will mark the fifth year in a row that one of these three has started the season for the Rockies. And while plenty of things have changed for the team since that 2018 season, for these three, they still are the backbone of the Rockies rotation. With more question marks than normal on the offensive side of the ball, and an overall pessimistic outlook for the 2021 season, Freeland, Gray, and Marquez will look to each find what makes them click and defy expectations for the Rockies.
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Austin Gomber allowed his first two earned runs of the spring yesterday, but nonetheless pitched well, striking out four and walking none in 4 1/3 innings of work. However, the Rockies offense wasn’t able to back him up, just scoring on a Trevor Story solo shot and Nick Longhi dashing home on a Pedro Strop wild pitch in the 9th. The Rockies managed just four hits on the day, but will look to get back on track today against the Royals.
The Rockies filled out their 40-man roster Saturday morning by selecting the contracts of C.J. Cron and Chris Owings. Cron has been rewarded for a strong spring thus far, and looks to be the favorite for the first base job. This spring training has been a sort of déjà vu for Owings, who made the roster last year out of camp as a non-roster invitee. With the recent injury to Brendan Rodgers, Owings will look to make the most of the opportunity to help the team.
With Rodgers recently sidelined for at least a month, the former first-round pick will have to wait even longer to live up to his draft status. More imminently, the Rockies will have to continue their rotating cast of infielders, as now Trevor Story seems to be the only lock at a certain position. Bud Black has consistently praised the “versatility” of the group, and it looks like it will certainly be tested sooner rather than later in 2021.
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